The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion With Trump’s heedless approach to the pandemic, children will pay an even higher price

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in the Rose Garden at the White House on July 9. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

“WHAT DO you tell parents, who look at this, who look at Arizona where a schoolteacher recently died teaching summer school; parents who are worried about the safety of their children in public schools?” That was the question posed Monday to President Trump about teacher Kimberley Chavez Lopez Byrd, who died after contracting covid-19. And — to no great surprise — it went unanswered. No expressions of sympathy for the family. No discussion of steps being taken. No assurances about safeguards being put in place. Mr. Trump instead just doubled down on his insistence that schools reopen in the fall. “The schools should be opened. Schools should be opened. You’re losing a lot of lives by keeping things closed,” he said.

We happen to agree with the president about the importance of getting children back into the classroom. Too much learning already has been lost, and continued time away from school robs children of the educational and social tools they will need to succeed in life. Those who are vulnerable because of income or special needs are especially at risk. And there can be no true economic recovery until children are back in school and parents can go back to work.

Full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic

Unlike the president, though, we don’t think it is sufficient, let alone effective, to make believe the virus isn’t a problem while bullying and threatening states and local school districts to open their doors in August. Mr. Trump and his remarkably unhelpful education secretary, Betsy DeVos, threaten to withhold federal funds from schools that don’t return to in-person instruction while failing to offer any guidance or even endorse school safety recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is pretty much the opposite of what schools need: careful planning, thoughtful precautions and additional resources to manage risks. But thoughtfulness is anathema to this administration. In fact, its heedless approach to the pandemic, elevating politics over public health expertise, has led to an epidemic so out of control in many states that any thought of reopening schools has become irresponsible.

We are interested in hearing about how the struggle to reopen amid the pandemic is affecting people's lives. Please tell us yours.

It is rich to see the administration point to the experience of other countries that have managed to reopen schools as examples to follow when those countries embraced the kind of careful steps and precautions — lockdowns, masks, extensive testing — that Mr. Trump constantly belittles. The federal abdication of any kind of leadership leaves it up to state and local officials to, using Ms. DeVos’s words, “figure things out.” Some, such as the Los Angeles and San Diego school districts, have opted to start the upcoming school year with full distance learning, while others, including New York City, have plans for in-school learning for part of the week. Many districts are still struggling with what to do. Most say they need more money. The only thing clear at this point is that children will pay a price far higher than it had to be.

Read more:

Brian P. Gill and Jennifer S. Lerner: We can reopen schools — if we’re willing to rethink how they operate

Leana S. Wen: If Trump wants to reopen schools, here’s what his administration needs to do

The Post’s View: Trump is shouting for schools to reopen. He needs an actual strategy.

Joseph G. Allen: Yes, kids should be going back to school in the fall

Catherine Rampell: Child-care centers have already been reopening. The results are troubling.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

End of the public health emergency: The Biden administration ended the public health emergency for the coronavirus pandemic on May 11, just days after WHO said it would no longer classify the coronavirus pandemic as a public health emergency. Here’s what the end of the covid public health emergency means for you.

Tracking covid cases, deaths: Covid-19 was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States last year with covid deaths dropping 47 percent between 2021 and 2022. See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world.

The latest on coronavirus boosters: The FDA cleared the way for people who are at least 65 or immune-compromised to receive a second updated booster shot for the coronavirus. Here’s who should get the second covid booster and when.

New covid variant: A new coronavirus subvariant, XBB. 1.16, has been designated as a “variant under monitoring” by the World Health Organization. The latest omicron offshoot is particularly prevalent in India. Here’s what you need to know about Arcturus.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

For the latest news, sign up for our free newsletter.